Man walks entire length of Amazon

By AP/Felipe Almeida with AG Staff 1 December 2013
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In an adventure like none other, a British soldier spent two years walking the length of the Amazon River.

AFTER 859 DAYS, THOUSANDS of kilometres and “50,000 mosquito bites”, Ed Stafford has become the first man known to have walked the entire length of the Amazon River.

“It’s unbelievable to be here,” Ed said when he reached the Atlantic Ocean in northern Brazil on Monday. “It proves you can do anything – even if people say you cannot.” A few hours earlier, he had collapsed at the side of the road, just short of his destination. But upon arrival at the Crispim beach – and his journey’s end – Ed looked like he had all the energy in the world, as if walking for two-and-a-half years were nothing as he jumped into the ocean and hugged anyone in sight.

While he says he is no eco-warrior, Ed told reporters near the end of his journey that he hoped the feat would raise awareness of destruction to the Amazon rainforest – but that at its heart, it was simply a grand expedition of endurance.

Grand expedition

“The crux of it is, if this wasn’t a selfish, boy’s-own adventure, I don’t think it would have worked,” the 34-year-old former British army captain said as he sat under the Brazilian sun near the jungle city of Belem. “I am simply doing it because no one has done it before.”

There have been at least six known expeditions along the course of the Amazon River, which begins high in the Peruvian Andes, and crosses Colombia and Brazil before dumping its waters into the ocean 6760 km away. But they all used boats to advance their travel.

Ed and a British friend began the walk on 2 April 2008, on the southern coast of Peru. Within three months, his pal had given up. Ed carried on, walking bits of the route with hundreds of locals he met along the way. Eventually, Peruvian forestry worker Gadiel “Cho” Sanchez Rivera, 31, decided to make the journey with him to the Atlantic.

Ed says that his journey – which has cost $US100,000 ($A108,755) and was paid for by sponsoring companies and donations – has deepened his understanding of the Amazon, its role in protecting the globe against climate change and the complex forces that are leading to its destruction.

Jungle demolished

He said he has seen vast swaths of demolished jungle. “It’s the people in power who are benefiting from the extraction of the natural resources here . . . That’s why there are corrupt politicians and laws that aren’t enforced and loads of unconstrained deforestation still going on.” Despite the devastation, Ed says he hopes things will change for the better. “I think the average Brazilian is a lot more environmentally conscious than the people in power. I’m optimistic; I’m not pessimistic.”

He lived off piranha fish he caught, rice and beans, and store-bought provisions found in local communities along the river. To relax at night, Stafford said he has downloaded podcasts via internet satellite phone by British comedian Ricky Gervais and episodes of the TV show, The Office.

Captured by Indians

The pair encountered every conceivable danger, from 5.5 m-long caimans, enormous anaconda snakes, illness, food shortages and the threat of drowning. After they were welcomed in one native Indian community in September 2008, the leaders offered to radio ahead to the next village for permission for Ed and Gadiel to walk through their territory.

“The response came back crystal clear: if a gringo walks into their community they will kill him,” Ed wrote in his blog at that time. He decided to plan a route around the village, but he was still captured by Indians from another village and taken to their leaders. After being dressed down and having their possessions thoroughly picked over – only a machete was confiscated – the pair’s repeated explanations of the point of their expedition won over the Indians. They were allowed to walk on the land, but only if they hired guides from the tribe.

Ed says he plans another expedition in September next year – something nobody has ever done – but will not provide details for fear someone might beat him to it. Until then, a good, long rest awaits.

“This expedition has been our lives. For two-and-a-half years, we’ve done nothing but walk and walk and walk. To wake up the morning after and know that we’ve done it will be a big change,” said Stafford. “I think we’ll get used to it though.”

Read more on Ed’s web site ‘Walking the Amazon’ 

See video below of Ed removing a botfly from his head (Credit: Walking The Amazon)